Saturday, August 14, 2010

I'm back! Plus, Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred

Hi guys! I disappeared for three months, and in all probability you've all forgotten that I exist! Sorry! Basically, my computer died for a while, and then I was in the throes of summer college and I just wasn't up for it. I didn't read any blog posts during the time I was gone either, so I'll be catching up for a long time. But I'm back, and I read some awesome books while I was gone!

Grease Monkey was one of those awesome books. It's a black-and-white science fiction graphic novel about a space station in a future where an awful lot of humans have been exterminated by aliens. Benevolent aliens came along and helpfully lifted gorillas up to the level of humans, so that the world wouldn't be too underpopulated to survive. Now, the gorillas and humans who populate the space station are in constant preparation, just in case the bad aliens come back. The book follows Robin Plotnik, a new cadet, as he assists Mac Gimbensky, the gorilla on the cover who happens to be the mechanic for the best squadron of fighter pilots on the station, the all-female Barbarians.

That's all just the set-up, though. What you get when you read this is the experience of living on that space station, with those people. It's not a sweeping space-military war epic. It's not a "how disturbing could I possibly make these aliens?" story, or an "in the future we all have weird sex every second of every day" story. It's not a "realistic" story wherein unlikeable people make stupid mistakes and just live with it. It's about real people having normal everyday problems, and TOTALLY COMING OUT ON TOP. It's awesome!

Like I said, it's not a sweeping epic. It's written in vignettes, for the most part, and that's where the day-in-the-life feel comes from. It's lots of days in their lives, and their lives are way funnier and more awesome than mine. It's a rich, complete story, it tries to make you think, and it's intense sometimes, but it's not trying to shock you or impress you with how trendy it is. You can read it in tiny little sips, one vignette at a time, and enjoy it, but it's the kind of book you just WANT to read, because when you're reading it, you're happy.

Since it's a graphic novel, a word on the art: Fantastic. Very clean and crisp and fun to look at, a pleasure to look at. There's no trouble telling which characters are which or what's going on in the panel, and a big spread will take your breath away. It really will.

You can read the ongoing sequel at the Grease Monkey site, as well as find all kinds of art, suggestions for further reading, and other cool stuff. I say once again: Awesome.

I've got loads of books to post about and plenty of spare time, so I'm hopefully back on a weekly schedule now. I hope y'all will bear with me as I get back into the swing of things.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Many and profuse thanks to my buddy Bookmonkey for recommending this totally awesome series way back whenever he did. It was months ago. Check out his blog, there's a lot of awesomeness over there.

Night Watch is kind of the Russian version of The Dresden Files, but better. (Please don't kill me, Dresden fans. He's awesome too.) It follows Anton Gorodetsky's life as a low-level operative of the Night Watch, the organization of good-guy magic-users devoted to foiling the plots of the Day Watch, the bad guys. They have a careful truce set up, so that for every good deed THEY do, the bad guys get to do one EVIL deed, and vice versa.

So, they don't do all that much good. What makes them the good guys, again?

That's what the book is about. It's totally frikkin awesome. There's some navel-staring toward the end, but for the most part it's action, magic, chase scenes, and murders! It's divided up into three separate parts with some time in between each one, so we get an overview of a slightly bigger picture, three major events happening in sequence. We see some of the consequences of actions further down the road that we (or I, at least) never saw coming. It's like life, like that.

In a book with a theme like this, you expect to get a lot of Dark, Broody, Controversial characters (i.e. characters with no redeeming qualities whatsoever), and there is some of that, but I really like these characters and I like how all of them have legitimate reasons for their actions. Not just excuses or "I have to have motivation for my villains" reasons, REAL reasons. Of course, Anton is my favorite, and in no small part because he's one of the few characters who doesn't want to take part in the dance and the compromises, who doesn't just assume things are they way they should be because someone else tells him they are.

This is a book about subtlety. And it's about plots, and intrigue, and mysteries. And also about hurling fireballs. And a note on the translation: Absolutely flawless. I never would've guessed that it was originally in Russian, there's no awkwardness at all, and the writing isn't only competent, it's amazing.

Really, there wasn't a thing about it that I didn't love. There are three sequels, which I'll be reading as soon as possible: Day Watch, Twilight Watch, and Last Watch.

Buy Night Watch

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Captivate by Carrie Jones

Last year, I reviewed Need by Carrie Jones. In that review I said that I enjoyed the book and the basics were excellent, but it was a Twilight read-alike, the execution was shaky, and it wasn't entirely satisfying. I said I hoped she'd write a sequel, because she could make it so much better. This is that sequel. Is it as awesome as I'd hoped? Read and find out. (Sorry guys, it's a pretty long review. I didn't do it on purpose.)

First, Captivate a lot more coherent and solid than the first book, for the most part. It starts to look at the ramifications of the first book and the consequences for the characters' actions, (mostly Zara's,) so you should definitely read the first book first for it to make sense. There's more fantasy, with the odd inclusion of Norse mythology this time around. I love Norse mythology, and it could be a really interesting choice, but I think she's getting in over her characters' heads with Ragnarok.

A note on the pixies. That example for it not being Twilight is out the window, because these are vampires. 1) They drink blood. 2) A pixie's kiss can turn you into a pixie. 3) They can't enter a home uninvited. 4) They're arranged like vampires tend to be, in coven sorts of things under a king or lord. (Or Sheriff, or what-have-you.) 5) They glitter. Aside from the glitter, they're more like vampires than the Twilight vamps are. Need I go on? (Pun!)

Speaking of pixies and Ragnarok: There are plenty of people (like, say, ME) who would be overjoyed to discover a supernatural world, even if it was realistic. (i.e. There are villains, people still die, etc.) There are also characters (less common than I'd like) who are capable of dealing with that kind of supernatural world when they find it. I can only wish that Zara was one of those characters. It's not that she's a waste of space or something, she's a fully-rounded character and I like that, but she's just not mature enough to be dealing with this kind of thing with so little guidance. She goes on and on about "most people don't know about this dark underbelly," but she really doesn't know a thing. She thinks she can take on vicious pixies by herself with a sword, but, as she promptly finds out, she has no idea how to fight (with a sword or without.) And she doesn't have the life experience she needs to make balanced decisions.

(minor spoilers await)
Case in point. Around the halfway mark of the book, something happens to her boyfriend. Instead of, say, being upset that her boyfriend of some three months is gone now, she compromises one of her most integral principles in her despair, then resolves to become the one thing neither she nor her boyfriend wanted her to be, in the name of saving him from something he'd probably WANT in the first place, even though she has no plan for saving him and other people are volunteering who are far more capable of succeeding. She totally derails her life in the name of saving him by herself. Guys, he's not that motivating. He's kind of oafish and bloodthirsty, and while he does genuinely care about Zara, she's obviously not the most important thing in his life, and he never listens to a word she says. Maybe if they'd been together longer and forged more of a relationship, sure, but this kind of reaction after three months of a relationship built on making out is simply not healthy. This is what therapists are for, Zara.

I do approve of the direction in which Zara has derailed her life, but I'd rather she went off and did that rather than making it all about some guy with little or no personality. And the derailing is the ENTIRE second half of the book! It doesn't end in a cliffhanger so much as she ran out of space and stopped between chapters. I might even have believed it more if it was in the heat of the moment, but it wasn't. It was almost 150 pages of Zara being too dumb to live. Does this remind y'all of something? Say, the second book in a certain famous series? (I do give props to Jones for not being afraid of drastic changes, though. I think if you're going to bring up an idea you should go all the way with it, and she does.)

So yes, it is better than the first book, but not by as wide a margin as I would have hoped. It IS better than Twilight though, the plot is way more interesting and the characters have much more depth. Despite all that ranting I just did, for the most part I enjoyed it, and there are some very interesting new developments and characters. I'll still pick up the third book, and hope Zara matures a bit during it.

The series I reviewed two weeks ago, Soul Screamers, is actually really similar, but Soul Screamers succeeds in all the places where Need flags.

I am aware that authors google themselves. To Ms. Jones, should she happen by:
Hello! I just totally dissed your book, and I feel really bad about it. Please don't think I hate your guts. I'm just the sort of person who obsesses about flaws, you know? The point is that I have read your book, and I cared enough about the characters to be this frustrated. I enjoyed the book, I think you have some great ideas, and your characters are awesome. I hope this review brings you business, and I can't wait to read your next book. -Fate

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shades of Green by Rhonda Parrish

So, I'm a little shy today, because I got this book for review from the author, so it's a fair bet she's going to be reading the review shortly. Of course I'll be my usual honest, nitpicky self, not to worry. I was afraid I was going to have to be scathingly rude and snipey, but I'm shy because I liked it, so I'm a bit giggly, and I'm shy because I'm still going to be nitpicky right in her face. Am I allowed to criticize when she's published and I'm not? I'm going with a resounding "yes." This entire blog is me criticizing published authors, so I think my opinion on that should be obvious. But that's probably an essay of it's own.

Anyway, the book. It's a novelette, which means it could be considered a very short novel, but it has the structure and scope of a short story. It's about the a girl who is the last swamp elf in the world and lives with the big lizard people (the Reptar) who hate her guts. She meets a human, falls in love with him, and has to choose between him and causing the destruction of the entire Reptar race.

First, the sniping. There are a lot of what I consider simple mistakes in the first ten or fifteen pages: "as you know, Bob," fantasy names that sound made up, etc. There just seem to be too many words on the pages, when those sentences could be much more streamlined and get to the point a lot faster. I don't want to have to sit and decipher oddly phrased sentences when we could be getting on with the plot. I also think the Reptar are too human--just humans wearing crocodile suits, really. I would expect a reptilian culture to be noticeably different from a primate culture, just for starters. They wouldn't build things the same way. But that was less important as the story went on.

After about twenty pages, I was far too interested to continue making notes. Rhonda's strength definitely looks to be in the area of plotting, (Twists! Reversals! A totally unexpected ending, but still a square peg in a square hole!) and worldbuilding to a slightly lesser extent. A lot of it is pretty standard fantasy fare; some of it is fascinating. The Reptars have a post-technological society centered around a magic stone that seems to be alive in some way. It kind of creeped me out, but it's supposed to be benevolent. I'm terribly curious. It reminds me of Interstellar Pig, and oh, how I love Interstellar Pig...! Also, I thought the romance was done really well. It rang true.

You can read the first chapter at Rhonda Parrish's site, as well as see a bigger picture of the cover. (I'm not crazy about most of it, to be honest, but I love the Reptar in the background and you can't see his teeth in my little picture.) Keep in mind that it gets much better than the first chapter, after the plot picks up. If you like it, you can buy it here, or go here to browse her other work. (More stories set in this 'verse, surely?)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent

Kaylee screams when people are about to die. Her "panic attacks" have already landed her in the hospital once, so she doesn't want to tell anybody now, but if she really can predict deaths, what is she supposed to do about it?

These really remind me of something I might have written when I was a tween. "Girl discovers she has special powers and joins the awesome secret society of other people with special powers, at least one of whom is a hot boy" kind of thing. Not terribly original, but here at least, really good. Fair warning: I'm going to swear in a paragraph or two.

My Soul to Take, the first book of the series, is mostly about introducing you to Kaylee, her friends and family including boyfriend Nash, and the world she lives in. The characters are all good (all of them are more than they let on in the beginning), especially Kaylee. She's got a great mixture of personality traits, so it's hard to sum her up in one or two keywords. She's self-conscious, but doesn't have an inferiority complex, tempestuous but not exhausting, sometimes kind of an idiot but only when she's really upset, and sometimes selfish but always trying to help. The story is half mystery and half romance (published by Harlequin Teen, here) and it just has that indefinable something that draws you in and makes you care.

I was worried that the second book, My Soul to Save, would be mostly teen wangst and relationship issues. That it wouldn't deliver on the fascinating ideas and potential the series was offering But not to worry: Save takes everything that was good about the first book and makes it TOTALLY AWESOME. We know who Kaylee is now, we know what she's capable of, so now we go and do some shit. Trips to the Netherworld! Showdowns with demons! Fame and fortune! And of course, relationship issues, but these weren't boring or wangsty. This was one of the best treatments of teen romance I've seen; passionate, but uncertain.

Vincent has succeeded in doing the one thing that every urban fantasy writer wants to do: She created a supernatural world and made me really believe it was there, totally alien, but right next to me. Kaylee has matured already, she's brave, she's smart, and she strong. I could totally see her as the heroine of an adult urban fantasy series (like Anita Blake or Harry Dresden) in ten or twenty years. It helps that I'm convinced Nash is evil, and that would be great backstory after the fact. (I have no evidence for this belief, he seems perfectly nice, but there's something he's not saying. Such as "I'm a serial killer" or "I'm a hellbeast in disguise" or something interesting like that.)

The third book (My Soul to Keep) comes out in June, and if you have a Kindle there's a prequel story called My Soul to Lose that you can order. Somebody please read this series and come theorize (and spaz) with me! Some similar books I'd recommend are Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley (review here) and Need by Carrie Jones (review here.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gladiatrix by Russel Whitfield

Some other reviews led me to believe I was going to hate this and deride it mercilessly for being utter crap, but I don't and won't. I kind of loved it, and I'll tell you why.

It's not because of the historical accuracy. That obviously wasn't a concern here. The story was based on one image, and focused on what might have happened to achieve a moment like that. This is a highly stylized, highly fetishized, highly modern-opinion-ized version of Rome.

It wasn't because the heroine was likeable, because she wasn't. There's not anything likeable about her at all, really, except maybe her perseverance. But she's interesting. I'm not asked to like her, only to understand her.

It was because this is a really great pulp action novel. Blood, sex, violence, exotic locations, intrigue. The writing flows well and isn't too stylized or self-aware, and it's no chore to read. It's not a timeless work of literature or one of my favorite books, but it'll only take one afternoon to read. Embrace the glorious VIGOR of it, the intensity that's so serious as to be a bit silly. It's liberating. It's the perfect vacation book, whether you're on vacation or not. A bucket of popcorn wouldn't be amiss, either.

It sort of reminded me of Mara, Daughter of the Nile... Mara is a cut above, though, better history and focused on absolutely delicious intrigue.

Buy Gladiatrix

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne

Andy is a zombie, in a world where zombies are well-known but not accepted. He still has all of his faculties intact, but he is dead and decaying, and zombies are second-class citizens if they're citizens at all.

This is a really interesting zombie book, thoughtful, quirky, original, and gross, on every page. It's written in that modern men's Nick Hornby fiction style, which I don't always like, but in this case it makes the story very clear and accessible. It's easy to start reading, and hard to put down. (The book design has a lot to do with that too... Great cover and overall design, the physical act of reading was pleasurable.)

But, lest you think it's all whining and introspection, let's not forget Andy's new friend Ray and that tasty, er, venison, he's been serving.

I'm not sure I'd say I "liked" the characters, plot, etc., but it was definitely worth reading. There are two conflicting ideas coming from the text and I'm not sure which one is the intended (or even unintentional) Aesop. Are zombies just people like us, or are they total monsters that need to be killed for our own protection?

I hate the ending a little bit, but it's not out of the blue, and it certainly isn't disappointing. Browne doesn't rely on his premise to carry the book, he definitely puts in the effort and writes the whole way through, which I think is fantastic.

World War Z (reviewed last week) was the book that piqued my interest in zombies, and is without compare for zombies on a global scale, like Breathers is for the personal scale. Breathers also reminded me of The Reformed Vampire Support Group (reviewed last August), although RVSG is firmly YA and Breathers is firmly adult. Browne also has an (unrelated) new book called Fated coming out in November, and I'm super excited.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

World War Z by Max Brooks

I heard a lot about this one on the interwebs a while (like, months) ago, and apparently put it on my automatic holds list at the library because, lo and behold, when I wasn't thinking about it at all, there it was. I then proceeded to dawdle over it for more months, piddle around with the first chapters for three or four days, and then down the entire thing in an afternoon.

World War Z is composed of interviews with/statements made by various survivors of the zombie apocalypse. The research that must have gone into this is mindblowing, because it really has a worldwide scope. There are interviews with soldiers from all over the world, civilians, doctors, everyone, through the whole course of the war. Max Brooks must know everything about everything by now.

There are a few recurring names, but no "main characters," and the book benefits from that immeasurably. This isn't "small group gets trapped in Sav-A-Lot with zombies outside," or "young soldier gets caught up in a zombie war," or what-have-you. It's ALL of those. It's kind of an immersive experience, terrifying in its realism. Everyone's affected, and there's nowhere to run.

I was impressed with the range of human behavior included in the book. There were brave people, cowards, good leaders, bad leaders, greedy jerks (to put it tactfully), and selfless heroes. That tends to tell me Mr. Brooks was actually writing a story, not a pamphlet for some agenda, which is always a danger in any book that deals with politics.

World War Z is thorough, gripping, realistic, intense, and a resounding success. Not to mention the words that are rapidly becoming the highest praise I can give a book: well-written.

Buy World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Zorgamazoo Audiobook!

Yeah, it's not out yet. Hasn't even been made yet. But, guess what I just heard from Robert Paul Weston's blog? Alan Cumming is going to be the voice! Alan Cumming! THIS IS AWESOME AND I CANNOT WAIT!

For the uninitiated, Zorgamazoo is one of my absolute favorite books. I reviewed it here, and here's my interview with Mr. Weston, the author.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Demonkeeper by Royce Buckingham

No review last week because I was sick. It was not awesome.

And I know awesome, because Demonkeeper is awesome. Just look at the puppy eyes the blue demon on the cover is giving you. Go ahead, I'll wait while you wibble.

Nathaniel Grimlock is a 15-year-old Demonkeeper, who is left on his own in a house full of demons when the older, fully trained Demonkeeper dies. It's now his job to keep the demons contained and cared for. Luckily the demons are friendly (if a little destructive)... Except for one. Guess which one escapes?

This quick-paced (but fully developed) horror for tweens. Bruce Coville blurbed it, and that's fitting because Royce Buckingham is on par with him in this book. I don't say that often. I don't know how Demonkeeper can be so terrifying, and yet so unbelievably cute! When I say "terrifying," I mean tween-suitable "AAAAAAH!" and "eeew gross!" and when I say "cute," I mean so adorable your brain might just explode. The book was like a breath of fresh air in the midst of a pile of bigger books that, while also awesome, were emotionally draining and/or a trial of my stamina.

The other main character, Sandra Nertz, isn't quite as adorable as Nat or his minions, but she is fun. She's a junior assistant librarian!

Obviously, I loved it. Buckingham's other book is called Goblins!: An UnderEarth Adventure, and I'm looking forward to reading that... Other books I recommend are Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (review here) and anything by Bruce Coville, especially Goblins in the Castle.

Buy Demonkeeper

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Masterplan by Scott Mills

The Masterplan is an indie sci-fi graphic novel coming to you from Top Shelf Productions, which you might have heard of. They've also published several books by Alan Moore, the Owly series by Andy Runton (LOVE), Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire, and a bunch of other stuff that I haven't read. Just judging by the ones I have read, Top Shelf only publishes works of stunning genius. I could be wrong.

Anyway, The Masterplan. A brilliant scientist drags his ex-wife and his brother along on a mission designed to keep the universe from expanding too far (gazillions of years in the future, when that might be a problem.)

This isn't a traditiional graphic novel... It reminds me of a webcomic more than anything else, except not designed to be read one strip at a time. The art is in black and white and minimalist, with the characters mostly just distinguishing characteristics with a hint of background behind them. It makes the reading really smooth, and it feels sort of wistful and pure. It suits the story.

This is a pure kind of sci-fi, very much about ideas and science and an intergalactic, universal scope. It's not science-y, it's very easy to understand and I don't know how accurate any of the theories might be, but it is about science. It's also about those three characters I mentioned, but it's not like we have to know every detail about them. We know how they feel. It's about travelling all over time and space, meeting aliens, robots, themselves, and other awesomeness, but its also touching and sad in a way that's hard to describe. Wistful.

This is a great book and I highly recommend it. It's hard to describe, but it's an experience I really enjoyed. You'll want to have a few hours to yourself and just sit down and read it all the way through, and then sit there staring at the cover for a while before you move on. (If you ever do.)

Buy The Masterplan

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey


I'm aware that my posts have been erratic for a while. We're hopefully back on a weekly, weekend post schedule now.

Way back in September I gushed about The Fire Rose and how much fun it was. I mentioned that it was the first of a series. Well, I finally finished the rest of them, and instead of taking up five more reviews I'm doing them all at once. It's a little on the long side, just to warn you.

The Fire Rose (awesome!) was written in 1994. Then, in 2001, Lackey started the Elemental Masters series, which is the same series, but without The Fire Rose listed as number one. So... I have no idea what's up with that, but at any rate, each book retells a classic fairy tale, but set in the 1800s (I think) in England, and centered around various elemental magicians. Some characters have cameos in multiple books, but each book stands alone and has a different set of protagonists and villains.

Another warning: Two of these books are awesome, including The Fire Rose. Two of them are enjoyable. Two of them are hideously awful and should never have been published, and I can't believe the same author wrote all six.

The Serpent's Shadow

This is one of the enjoyable ones, a very loose rendition of Snow White. (It's not like Beauty and the Beast, where the recognizable elements ARE the plot. The recognizable elements aren't as significant to the story in Snow White.) It stars a half-Indian lady doctor, Maya, who is also a magician. She was a fantastic, strong woman with anything BUT a stock character profile. She had a unique perspective on things and a pragmatic attitude that I found refreshing. The plot involves a lot of Indian mythology, and that put an interesting light on things without overwhelming the story.

Lackey spends a lot of time ranting about the anti-feminism of the time period, and even though she has a point, it was really frustrating because it's not like I can do anything about it. It was two hundred years ago. Stop ranting at me and tell a story, for Pete's sake!

The Gates of Sleep

Sleeping Beauty! Perhaps the one fairy tale in which the heroine does the absolute LEAST! Surely that'll make a great heroine-centered book, right? Well, no, not really.

The first 120 pages of the book could have been cut and it wouldn't have mattered, because NOTHING happens. The whole thing is a long, boring ramble on the social conditions of the time and how terrible it would have been to be poor back then. Another situation which I am powerless to rectify, and also, not a first act of a story, which, when that annoying interlude is removed from my mind, was still horrible. The first event is a mother's baby being taken away without her even getting a chance to get used to the idea, when that kind of urgency was totally uncalled for, and the next interesting thing that happens (120 pages later) is the same child being taken away from her new parents without being given any inkling of the danger she's headed for.

And, when the curse finally takes effect on the girl, her guardians go into fits. What did you THINK would happen when the woman you've been hiding from this entire time got her hands on the EXACT THING she wanted? HELLO?! The stated reason why they didn't come to rescue her at the beginning was that "as long as we didn't hear anything, we assumed the witch hadn't figured out how to curse her." So, they just waited to hear something. Um, okay.

I didn't really hate the characters, but I didn't like them either. They were all so unremarkable that they might as well not exist at all. I enjoyed the book more than I'm letting on, and the villains were fantastic (and the book was freakishly similar to Hotel Transylvania for some reason). Read it if you're a completionist, love Sleeping Beauty, or just like this series and want to look at some of the intricacies of the magic system Lackey's created, but otherwise you won't miss much if you skip it.

Phoenix and Ashes

Awesome! And yet, I have no idea why. I keep a book journal, and my notes are basically "I love it! I'm enjoying it so much!" for half a page. Fantasy and/or romance fans, definitely read this one.

It's a fairly faithful retelling of Cinderella, but there's a little bit of a role reversal here. The Prince needs saving almost as much as Cinderella does, and to me, she was the strong one in the relationship. Not that I don't like strong men, because I do, and this Prince is no weenie, but there's just something different about this romance. It's not just a marraige of equals, if you'll pardon the pun, but a place where two separate, damaged people come together and make a whole relationship. The Prince isn't the kind of romantic hero that I swoon over, but at the same time I really love and respect him and I can actually cheer on the princess even more, be more invested, because I'm not jealous of her. :)

I think the two things this book has in common with The Fire Rose are 1) the special romance at the heart of it, and 2) how it stays true to the fairy tale, but isn't bound by that fairy tale. The rest of the books either kind of wander off to do their own things or wander WAY off and are just in the same territory. These two fantastic ones take the immortal heart of the story and go from there, rather than taking the trappings and trying to force a new story into them.

The Wizard of London

Skip this one, if you have the power. (I, too, have felt the urge to finish terrible books just because I started them, and to start them just because I've read the rest of the series. I feel your pain, completionists, especially where this book is concerned, and I support you in your coming time of trial.)

This is one of the most mindnumbingly boring books I've ever read, and I've read The Grapes of Wrath. It's based on "The Snow Queen," a very odd and confusing fairy tale to be sure, but that doesn't have anything to do with how boring this book is because the book doesn't seem to have a thing to do with the fairy tale.

What it does have to do with is two special kids in a boarding school and their animal companions. Two sickeningly average special kids in a boarding school and their sickeningly average animal companions. Seriously, the majority of the book is the two little girls doing... Well, not much of anything. It's SO day-in-the-life that MY life was infinitely more interesting, and it took me about three weeks of two or three chapters a day to get through this beast.

I did like the new things Lackey incorporated into the magic system, how it's all very systematic but still complicated, but still a lot of elements just seemed stuck in there to take up space. I also liked how sensible the characters (mostly the kids) were, always telling someone else where they were going and when they'd be back, etc., but at the same time, they keep foiling the villains' plans and the plot never goes anywhere.

I kid you not, the villain is defeated by two small children overwhelming him with the power of love. Um, okay. END SPOILER.

The one character I liked never stuck around longer than a few pages. (And it's not the woodland spirit you might be thinking of if you've already read it. It's the husband.) The depths that were available were never plumbed. I kept reading hoping it would get better, but it never did. Skip it.

Reserved For the Cat

It's based on "Puss in Boots." You guessed it--talking cats! Woohoo!

I love talking cats!

Anyway, the basic story is that a Russian ballerina comes to England and pretends to be a famous Russian ballerina, at the behest of the talking cat.

This book was fun. It wasn't mindblowing and the writing wasn't magnificent, but I did enjoy it. I had a good time trying to figure out who the prince was going to be (it could have been one of three or four people at one point,) and there were machinations! I also love machinations.

It's pretty standard stuff, so don't let it preempt something awesome on Mt. TBR, but if you love ballerinas, talking cats, and/or machinations...


Surely, if Ms. Lackey can write glowing tomes of happiness, she shouldn't also write (or at least publish) horrible piles of drivel. Or even enjoyably average novels. I just don't get it. But I'll keep reading all her stuff, because I'm pathetically addicted to her glowing tomes of happiness...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fate's Favorite Superman Books

I've devoted a not inconsiderable amount of thought to reviewing graphic novels in recent months. I LOVE graphic novels and I read at least one of those to every "normal" book I read, and of course I have plenty of thoughts about them, but I couldn't figure out how best to do reviews. There's not much point in telling you how much I liked Elongated Man #783 (fake example) if you don't know who Elongated Man is and haven't read the preceding 782 issues.

For the moment, I'm going to try to do graphic novels that stand alone and tell a complete story, and I'll probably continue to do more than one at a time when I do them. So, without further ado: Superman!

My three favorite titles, through mild coincidence, have nothing to do with each other but do tell an overall story. All Star Superman by Grant Morrison, Superman: For Tomorrow by Brian Azzarello, and Kingdom Come by Mark Waid.

All Star Superman is the only Grant Morrison title that I have any kind of enjoyment for, but it is AMAZING. We already know the basic story, about how Superman was sent as a baby from the planet Krypton, raised by a good farming couple in Kansas, etc. The Superman story has been told at least a thousand times, and Superman, on average, kind of bores me. All the stories are the same sometimes. But Morrison gets rid of the transitional material, the "story glue," and just shows us the panels that are important to the story. He shows us the heart of Superman, the reasons why we loved the story the first time we heard it. He shows us a naive, innocent man who is able to wield amazing power, and what's more, wield it well. The art is hard to explain, but I really like it. The whole story is contained in two volumes.

Superman: For Tomorrow is another two volume book, set a year after The Vanishing, a moment in which a substantial portion of Earth's population simply disappeared. It's a darker and edgier story, sparely written, and deeply moving. You have to fill in a lot of the story yourself, so it'll bear multiple re-readings. I was really surprised by how well the whole book was done... Azzarello shows us what happens when Superman loses his naivete and finds out the world is more complicated than he thought it was. It breaks his heart a little bit, but it doesn't break HIM. He doesn't lose his idealism. The art captures that story beautifully too... It looks like Superman in all his iconic awesomeness, but it incorporates shadows and uncertainty.

Now, if you've been following me for a while, you know how much I love Kingdom Come. It's one of my favorite graphic novels EVER, but it's also becoming one of my favorite Superman graphic novels. The Kingdom Superman is full of sorrow, and even bitterness, and he isn't perfect, but that doesn't make him any less Superman. He's still trying to do the right thing, and trying to save people. He still knows how to throw a punch and how to fill out spandex. I think Kingdom Come can be thought of almost as the future of For Tomorrow in a way.

I see these three graphic novels as partly a timeline, showing an almost childlike Superman growing up, but also as three kinds of Superman/Superman story. The simple kind, the kind that looks at the darkness, and the kind that goes all the way. Whole, breaking, broken. And the best thing is that all three kinds are about idealism. I love all of them. I love Superman. I love to turn a page and see a big, full-page drawing of Superman flying above all of us who are on the ground, because he's better than us, and he inspires us to be better too. Even when he's not perfect, he's inspiring.

There have been a few other ones I liked (Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb was great, and the Superman: Man of Steel series that started in the eighties is my favorite longterm series) but these are my absolute favorites so far. For those of you who have never read Superman, I envy you the joy of discovering him for the first time, and I recommend Superman for All Seasons and then All Star Superman as a great place to start.

Buy All Star Superman (Volume 2 should be out in paperback at some point.)

Buy Superman: For Tomorrow

Buy Kingdom Come

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Reasons by Tracy Fabre

Thanks to Stimulating Conversation and for this one!

Delphi Brent was seriously injured in a hit-and-run when she was a teenager in Colorado. Ten years later she plans to return to spend the summer with the Laughlins, old friends of her family, only to have her parents reveal that it was the Laughlin boys who were in the car that hit her. She goes anyway, and finds herself falling in love with one of the brothers.

The premise held a strange fascination for me, for no apparent reason, but even being interested in the outcome I found myself skimming a lot of the book. The characters all seemed very similar, and hardly did anything but talk to each other about whatever character happened to be absent. The characters and conversations were very realistic, to the point where their conversations weren't any more interesting than the conversations I could be having in the real world.

I think Tracy Fabre does a little bit more telling (as opposed to showing) than she should. We're told about the characters, but they don't really do very much, and we never get much of an insight into their thoughts or emotions. Kind of like a real conversation, only without even visual cues to give us a hint. The story just kind of meanders slowly to the end, with a few little surprises but no big ones.

Basically, the book was very realistic, so I was bored, which is more of a reflection on me than the book. I do recommend it though, if this is the kind of book you like.. It's got a very calming, Midwest small town atmosphere, and the romance is gentle and not overblown. This would be a nice book to take out to a small town and read out in a field somewhere... Mm...

See Tracy's website for information about her upcoming new release, Sending Rupert Home.

Buy Reasons

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly & Jim Ken Niimura

I spent forever trying to work up a review for this book but I'm finally facing facts: This book has to be read to be appreciated, and I cannot do it justice, so this is more of a "short blather" than a review.

Before I read it I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was about a post-apocalyptic little girl with an ax... In case someone else got that impression, it's completely wrong and has nothing to do with this book. This story is about a present-time girl named Barbara, about 12ish I think, who has an ancient Norse hammer in her bag, with which to kill the giants of the title.

This is a sad book. Barbara basically stole my personality from when I was younger, and I think anybody could find a similar element to identify with. It's also a funny book in some places, and an exciting book especially toward the end, and an intense book all the way through. The art is fantastic, nightmarish, disturbing and cute as scenes demand. The design of the book as a whole is fantastic too, I love just holding it.

The story is complete in one book (unfortunately.) I suggest Courtney Crumrin(review here) as something also amazing and of similar content and style, but not the same.

Buy I Kill Giants

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Deep by Claire Nouvian

I was going to talk about Avatar this week, but I think plenty of people are doing that. Suffice it to say that I didn't love it unconditionally, but I did love it. Among (many) other things, the alien planet really looked alien, and it had a variety of cool animals and creatures populating it.

Which brings me around to The Deep. I'm absolutely terrified by creatures that live in the ocean--not in rivers or fishbowls, just in the ocean--but I'm also fascinated by them. They're so beautiful, and different, and complex, and simple, and alien. That's what this book is about.

This is an oversize book, one that you'll want to read at a table, and there's hardly any text. The whole book is huge, full-color pictures of deep-sea animals on black, like the cover, and it is truly amazing. The vast majority of them were animals I had never seen before, despite my ocean-dweller fixations, and they're animals I couldn't have made up if I tried. Each one has a small, inconspicuous paragraph with it's significant informtion, and every so often there are short essays to give you an impression of the big picture (ha, pun) but they support the pictures, not the other way around.

After I read this I immediately went out to look for more, but there's not much out there for laymen. This is the best of its kind, with current information and pictures you can stare at for hours. I knew there was some strange life on Earth, from pachyderms with prehensile noses to my weird grandmother, but I never knew there were things like this.

Buy The Deep